Privatisation as an instrument of social welfare provision: the case of prisons privatisation in Victoria, Australia

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Since the 1970s, many international jurisdictions have embraced private sector solutions to problems of social welfare provision. Prisons, once regarded as a core responsibility of the public sector, have not been quarantined from this process. In Australia, the state’s monopoly of correctional services ended in 1990 with the opening of the first privately operated prison in the northern state of Queensland. Now, nearly three decades later, Australia has the highest proportion of prisoners in privately managed prisons in the world. Our paper analyses the experience of one Australian state, Victoria, which has made the most extensive use of a range of privatisation mechanisms to finance, build and manage that state’s prison system.
Taking an historical perspective and drawing upon publicly available documents, the paper traces the evolution of prison management in Victoria from a traditional bureaucratic model which assumed complete state responsibility to one in which the private sector now has a major role. The paper explains how successive Victorian governments of differing ideological persuasions utilised alternative models of prison services from the 1990s onwards in the expectation of delivering more efficient and effective prison services in the context of a growing prison population. It identifies the key drivers of prisons privatisation, including changing views on the role of government, and more particularly, the public sector, in managing prisons, as well as the adoption of new forms of management within the public sector. The extent to which expectations of a cheaper, better and more accountable prison system have been realised via the adoption of privatisation are then assessed.
The paper explores the impact of shared responsibility between the state and the private sector upon prison management and the provision of prison services. The experience of Victoria’s prison privatisation project is lastly compared with those of other Australian states. In doing so, the paper seeks to evaluate the efficacy of various models of privatisation as instruments of social welfare provision in Australian prisons.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages32
Publication statusPublished - 2019
EventInternational Conference on Public Policy - University of Concordia, Montreal, Canada
Duration: 26 Jun 201928 Jun 2019
Conference number: 4th


ConferenceInternational Conference on Public Policy
Abbreviated titleICPP4
Internet address


  • prisons
  • privatisation
  • social welfare
  • Performance measurement
  • transparency
  • accountability

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